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Over time, the colony of Home divided into those who live in the original domed buildings of the colony, who maintain the library and technology of Ship, and those who live by the river, farming and hunting to survive. The Dome Dwellers consider themselves the protectors of "true humanity" and the River People as "contaminated." For many years, the two populations interact solely through ritualized trade.
Then a new light appears in the night sky. The River People believe it might be Ship, keeping its promise to return, but the Dome Dwellers, who have a radio to communicate with Ship, are silent, so Bian, a seventeen year old girl from a small village, travels upriver to learn what they know. As she travels, Bian ponders why the Dome Dwellers have said nothing. Has Ship commanded them to be silent, in preparation of some judgment on the River People? Or are the Dome Dwellers lying to Ship and turning Ship against their rivals?
Seed Seeker is an adventure in colonization and conflict from a master of the SF field.
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By Pamela Sargent
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Pamela Sargent
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Bian's great-grandmother Nuy was the first to see the new pinprick of light in the sky.
Bian had followed Nuy downriver to the seashore only because her mother had insisted that she look after the old woman. "Don't let her out of your sight," Tasu told her. Bian did not argue with her mother, although Tasu knew as well as she did that Nuy often wandered down to the shore in search of solitude and was able, in spite of her advanced age, to look out for herself.
Bian found Nuy sitting on a hill overlooking the ocean, her basket empty of fish. The sun was nearly below the horizon in the west. Bian strolled along the shore, clutching her own small basket, kicking up sand while pretending to look for any fish that had washed up onto the beach.
"Go back to your mother," Nuy said at last. Bian halted and shifted her basket from one hand to the other. "Go on home, child. I don't need you here watching me."
It was no use telling Nuy that Tasu had only sent her here to fetch any fish that might have been washed ashore; Nuy could see through a lie as well as anyone. "I know you don't need me," Bian admitted, "but Tasu insisted."
"Tasu worries far too much about me."
"Not any more than the rest of us do."
"And then everybody wonders why I like to wander off by myself." Nuy waved a hand. "Lately it's because I can't bear to see all of your worried looks and sense everybody's concern for me. It's enough to make me feel I'm being smothered by your worries."
Bian dropped her empty basket and sat down next to Nuy. The old woman's long white braid hung over her left shoulder and down the front of her sleeveless tunic; her slim bare legs and arms were almost as muscular as those of a young person. She was much older than other great-grandparents in their village, because the first of her seven children had not been born until she was in her forties, and her children had followed her example of living for a long time with their mates before having children of their own. Her age was most visible on her lined neck and around her eyes, where deep wrinkles were etched around drooping lids.
"You're one of the First," Bian murmured. "It's natural for us to be concerned about you."
"I'm the only one of the First who's still alive," Nuy said. "That's what you meant to say."
Nuy was right, of course. She always knew what was lurking in the recesses of Bian's mind, sometimes even before Bian herself became aware of her own hidden thoughts.
Nuy had outlived all the first generation of Home's children, that first generation born of the people who had come down from the sky to settle this world. She had told the story of those sky people often. "All of us grew from the seeds sown here by Ship, that great vessel launched by our ancestors," Nuy would begin. "Some of those seeds were the people who came down from the sky, who flew down from Ship to live here on Home. Ship was the child of the people of Earth, and its purpose was to find other worlds like Earth, worlds where its seeds could be sown and where they would grow and flower and preserve true humankind."
At that point, Nuy was often interrupted by two or three of the youngest children, who wanted to know what and where Earth was, what "true humankind" meant, and whether the heavens were anything like the vast sea that stretched to the southern horizon. When she was much younger, Bian had imagined Ship as a very large boat sailing in from the sea and then up the river to disgorge its living cargo along the river's banks, but she had soon learned that Ship could not have been anything like their boats. Ship, Nuy had explained, was more like one of Home's two moons, an orb of rock, but with a hollowed out core and crannies where people could live, and with powerful engines that could carry it across the vast distances of space, and with a mind far more complex and all-encompassing than a human being's.
"Other seeds from Earth were scattered over Home," Nuy would continue, "and those seeds sprouted into the rabbits and horses and birds and cattle and sheep, the small and large cats, the dogs that befriend us and the wolves and bears that avoid us. None of those creatures existed on Home before our kind came here, and the greener grasses of the plain and many of the plants that feed us also sprang from the Earthseed sown here. If human beings were to survive, we could not live on Home as it was, or so Ship and its designers believed. Some of the life-forms of Earth would fill the niches that Home had left empty, and Home would in time become another Earth. That was their hope. But Home isn't just another Earth. And we may all be a part of humankind, but strands of Home also took root in us and live within each of us."
That was usually where Nuy ended her story whenever she told it to the youngest children. The rest of the story, a tale of the distrust, resentments, hatreds, and battles that had also made them what they were, could wait until they were older. Those battles had finally ended, and after that most of their people had left their original settlement to live along the banks of the river and near the sea. But a few had remained in the north, inside their domed dwellings, because they feared growing too close to Home and losing their true humanity. The battles among them might lie in the past, but distrust had remained.
"Will Ship ever come back?" Bian and some of the others had asked Nuy when they were older.
"I don't know," Nuy always replied. "Perhaps."
The sky had grown dark green. Bian sat with Nuy, not speaking, until the sun set. Nuy intended to stay here at least until the first moon rose; Bian sensed that as soon as the old woman lifted her head to gaze at the sky.
"I saw a strange light in the sky last night," Nuy said then. "Just before dawn, a light I've never seen before. It was only a tiny pinpoint of light, yet it didn't flicker in the way that the stars do. I wonder if I'll see it again tonight."
Nuy was silent after that. Bian sat with her until the sun had set and the first of the stars appeared. Nuy glanced from right to left, grew still as she gazed east, then suddenly clutched Bian's shoulder. "There it is."
Bian saw it now, a tiny beacon on the horizon. The unfamiliar speck of light shone steadily as it moved slowly across the sky. Nuy let out a sigh and Bian sensed a disturbance inside her great-grandmother. Nuy was afraid.
"You fear it," Bian said before she could stop herself from speaking.
"I'm afraid of what it might mean." Nuy's grip on her shoulder tightened. "You remember the story of how we came to be and how we were brought to Home. Not the story that I told you when you were very small, but the rest of it, the part of the story you heard when you were older."
"Of course." Bian gently removed Nuy's small bony hand from her shoulder.
"Most of the ones your age never did hear the end of that story," Nuy continued. "Your grandmother heard it, and I think your father might have heard it all, but I may be the only one left in our village who remembers that Ship made a promise to our ancestors."
Bian frowned. "What promise?"
"Ship's promise to return."
Bian turned toward Nuy, surprised. "But you never told us —"
"Ship promised to come back here," Nuy said, "to see what we had made of ourselves. That was the true end of the story. But as the years passed, most of us came to believe that Ship would never return, that in carrying out its mission to seed other worlds, it might have forgotten about this one. Others worried instead that some misfortune had come to Ship, that it was unable to return, or even that it might have traveled so far across space that it could no longer find its way back to Home. What's the point in telling young ones about Ship's promise when it seemed likely that the promise would never be kept? I began to ask myself that after I'd been repeating the story for a while, so I started leaving that part out. When no one ever complained, I decided it was best to leave it that way. Maybe Ship would return, and maybe it wouldn't, but it was better to get on with our lives and not think about that."
"No one else ever told us the story except you."
"Yes," Nuy murmured, "I seem to have become the guardian of that tale in our village. I have grown to prefer the more uncertain ending I gave it." She looked up at the sky. "Maybe that new light is only a small planetary body that was roaming the heavens. Maybe Home has just captured it and made another satellite of it. That's what I'm telling myself now. It can't be Ship."
"There's no reason to think —"
"I don't want it to be Ship."
Bian waited for Nuy to explain what she meant by that, but her great-grandmother said nothing more.CHAPTER 2
Bian and Nuy watched the point of light cross the sky three times before they walked back to the village. In the morning, Bian woke to the sound of voices outside the entrance to her cabin, all of them chattering about the new light that had appeared in the night sky and speculating about what it might mean.
Tasu was already up. She sat just outside the entrance to their hut, cooking thin cakes of grain for their morning meal on one of the flat rocks around their fireplace. She did not ask Bian if Nuy had said anything about the light, although Tasu had to be wondering if she had. Not long after they finished their breakfast, nearly all the seventy people in the village of Seaside had left their huts to gather under the boltrees that bordered their orchards and fields. That was when Nuy told them the rest of the story, the part that most of the older people had forgotten and the younger ones had never heard at all.
In the northern settlement of the dome dwellers, Nuy explained, there was one dome where a library was housed, where the records that had been carried down from Ship were kept. The people who lived along the river had brought some of those records with them, which they could read and view on the carefully maintained screens in which the records were embedded. But there was a mysterious room inside the library that was also part of the tale of the sky people, a room barely mentioned in the records the river people possessed.
That room was called Ship's Room, and Nuy had visited it only a couple of times while living among the dome dwellers, since the door to Ship's Room was usually kept closed. The people who had come down from the sky used to speak to Ship from that room, sending their voices into the air and out to the great vessel through a device they called a radio. Although Ship had finally left its orbit around Home and was now too far away for any of their voices to have the power to reach it, Ship had promised to return. The settlers had pledged to keep Ship's Room as it was and to preserve their radio, in the hope of one day hearing Ship's voice again.
"Do you understand now?" Nuy asked. "That new light in the sky may be Ship, returning to see what's happened to the seeds it planted here. If so, the dome dwellers will be the first to find out, because Ship will have to contact them to learn anything, and speaking through their radio is the only way to do so. They could be talking to Ship right now."
Bian looked around at the others seated near her. The oldest of the villagers looked worried, while the younger ones seemed puzzled, but all of them had clearly sensed the fear in Nuy's voice. If they possessed a radio of their own, they might also have been able to send a message to Ship, but they had never thought of making such a seemingly useless device.
"Does it matter?" Arnagh, Bian's closest friend, asked. "If they're talking to Ship, I mean." He stood up and took a step forward. At seventeen years of age, a year older than Bian, Arnagh was already the tallest of their people. "What difference would it make if they talked to Ship first?"
"They think of themselves as the true people, as true humanity," Cemal answered in his resonant voice. "That's what difference it makes."
"It's why they stay in their settlement, why they avoid us." Cemal slowly got to his feet. "That's what they'll be saying to Ship, that they're its true children and the rest of us aren't." The old man stroked his white beard as he looked around at the crowd. "How do we know they aren't already turning Ship against us?"
Tasu looked up at Cemal. "We're Ship's descendants, too," she murmured.
"But with pieces of Home inside us," Cemal said. "How I wish that at least one of those sky people who once lived inside Ship were still alive to advise us. Then maybe we could figure out what to do now. We don't know how Ship might act, how it might regard us, or how much power it may have to harm us, if it comes to that." He sat down again and held up one hand, indicating that he had finished speaking.
Mari rose and glanced toward Nuy. "We're not even sure what that light means yet," the red-haired woman began, "but let's assume that it means Ship has returned and is in contact with the others. There's a chance that whatever they tell Ship about us will only rouse Ship's curiosity. It may want to speak to us itself, to find out for itself what we are, which means that sooner or later the dome dwellers will try to contact us."
Mari was always so reassuring, Bian thought. She had a placid temperament and seemed incapable of anger or anxiety, which was probably why most of them increasingly looked to the young woman for guidance and advice. Mari clearly believed what she was saying, and everyone sensed both her conviction and her calmness. Bian might have felt easier and less apprehensive herself, soothed by Mari's words and reassuring expression, if she hadn't noticed the doubtful look on Nuy's face.
Nuy said, "So all we have to do now is wait until someone from upriver lets us know what's going on, which will take a string or two of days if not longer." Bian could hear the skepticism in her great-grandmother's voice.
"Yes," Mari replied.
"And what if we hear nothing?" Clutching the spear she often used as a walking stick, Nuy slowly stood up. "Here are some questions for all of you. What if the dome dwellers decide not to let us know they've contacted Ship? What if they think it's to their benefit to keep whatever they can learn or get from Ship for themselves, without sharing anything with us? For that matter, what if they find out that this new light in the sky isn't Ship at all, but only a small worldlet captured by Home? They might still see some advantage in keeping that knowledge to themselves and leaving us in doubt."
"But we've no reason to think —," Mari began.
"— that they might consider only what's best for them, even if it's not to our benefit?" Nuy finished. "The dome dwellers have had nothing to gain by acting against us in the past," she continued, "but now they do, or may believe that they do, and that could be enough to turn them against us. They seem to be grateful for what we can bring them in trade, but Ship could give them much more, maybe enough so that they wouldn't want or need anything from us."
Mari's smile faded; her mouth twitched as she tugged at the long braid that hung down over her chest. She sat down and folded her arms.
Bian stood up. "There's no reason to wait here and wonder about all this," she said. "We could send someone upriver, maybe with goods to trade to the dome dwellers, and see if we can find out something that way. At the very least, we'd learn something sooner than if we just wait here for information to travel downriver to us."
"Are you volunteering to go and investigate?" Arnagh asked.
Bian realized that she was, and prickled with apprehension. Nuy leaned forward, obviously pleased, while Tasu frowned with worry.
"But you've never gone anywhere, Bian," Arnagh said more gently. "You've barely gone more than a few paces beyond our fields."
It was true. She had been like a rit, hiding in its hole, afraid to come out. She had never left the village, not even to head upriver to Overlook, the nearest village to the north, or to hunt and roam the plains with a group of other young people or by herself; instead contenting herself with the stories Arnagh brought back to her of his adventures. She had often told herself that she could not leave Tasu, who had lost her mate, Kwam, while Bian was still a baby, and who still mourned for the father Bian had never known. It was also easier to stay at her mother's side, since they shared the same timid temperament. The other villagers had often wondered how there could be so little of the fearless Kwam and his grandmother Nuy in Kwam's daughter Bian.
Excerpted from Seed Seeker by Pamela Sargent. Copyright © 2010 Pamela Sargent. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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